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Economy showing signs of rebound

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It’s still early, but there are growing signs that the country’s economy is getting back on its feet, and that Kentucky is poised to help lead the way.

Some of the best evidence of this can be found in two recent announcements by General Motors and Ford. The former said earlier this month that it would invest more than $130 million at its Bowling Green plant and hire 250 additional people to help build the next generation of Corvettes. In December, Ford said it would spend $600 million this year to renovate its Louisville Assembly Plant and hire 1,800 additional workers, the equivalent of about five percent of its entire U.S. workforce.

According to the Cabinet for Economic Development, which keeps a running total of business expansions across the state, a little more than 3,000 jobs were added during the first four months of this year. There were nearly 12,000 new jobs in 2010, with projected investments topping $2 billion.

Many of these jobs come from our small businesses, which employ 90 percent of our workforce.  We are consistently among the nation’s leaders when it comes to the number of people who are not afraid to turn their business idea into reality.  One recent study put us eighth among the states in entrepreneurial activity over the last decade.

Another nationwide study released in March, meanwhile, named the Danville area as the 14th best small-town community in the country for new and expanded business projects in 2010. Ten other communities across the Commonwealth cracked the top 100.

For further proof of Kentucky’s economic turnaround, consider the recent run of good news for state revenues. April’s receipts were nearly eight percent greater than in April 2010, which solidifies a trend that has held steady during the past year after 15 months of decline.

State budget officials are predicting that this pace won’t change much during the last three months of the fiscal year, which ends June 30th.

The economic gains are starting to have a positive impact on our unemployment rate as well.  Though much higher than anyone prefers, April’s rate was tied for the best month we have seen in more than two years.

To help that along, the General Assembly has tried to foster economic growth in several ways. We updated the state’s tax incentive programs during the summer of 2009, for example, making it easier for companies already here to qualify for the same type of programs that were being used to lure others to Kentucky. At the same time, legislators authorized two programs designed to spur home and new-car sales.

During the 2011 Regular Session, my colleagues and I approved a new law that will establish a “one-stop shopping” website for business owners wanting to know more about the services the state offers and what requirements they need to meet. Submitting forms and applications should be much easier once this is fully established.

Another law passed earlier this year calls on the state to study our tax-incentive programs to see where we are doing well and what we might need to improve. We want to see greater cooperation between the legislative and executive branches, so that we can better tailor these programs that help us compete for jobs against other states and even other countries.

For now, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the worst may finally be behind us.  That doesn’t mean we’re back to where we want to be, but given the bad news of the last few years, it’s good to focus on something positive for a change.

Should you have thoughts, concerns or suggestions about this matter, I would like to know. I hope to hear from you soon.

Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.